Shh… I’m Trying to Exist

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, published by Broadway Books, 352 pages, paperback

Book Review by Rachel H. T. Mendell

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

The big fat gray book made me cry. And that surprised me. I don’t usually cry, having stuffed all my emotions since I was a child. But learning about myself has become my new project, the shell is breaking, the layers are dropping off and now, just about every book I read has an arrow for my soul. Good arrows. Bad arrows.

Susan Cain knows me. She is an introvert and has studied introversion for years. “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Wold that Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain, was 350 pages of pure golden therapy for me.

And it was recommended to me by an extrovert friend, “That book helped me to understand my wife better than any other book I’ve ever read.” His wife is an introvert. I’m sold!

This book is overwhelming and wonderful at the same time. I consumed it in a week – which is fast for me. There were quotes in it I needed to underline (library copy), so I bought one. These quotes I will go to when I feel confused or misunderstood. Like this one:

“If you’re an introvert, find your flow by using your gifts. You have the power of persistence, the tenacity to solve complex problems, and the clear-sightedness to avoid pitfalls that trip others up. You enjoy relative freedom from the temptations of superficial prizes like money and status. Indeed, your biggest challenge may be to fully harness your strengths. You may be so busy trying to appear like a zestful, reward-sensitive extrovert that you undervalue your own talents, or feel underestimated by those around you. But when you’re focused on a project that you care about, you probably find that your energy is boundless.

Some of what I learned from “Quiet”:

  • I’ve lived “The Bus to Abilene” anecdote for years.
  • There’s a place in God’s kingdom for sensitive, reflective types.
  • Excessive stimulation seems to impede learning.
  • There are high-reactive people and low-reactive people.
  • Introverts can act like extroverts and fool everyone, but afterward they need down time, alone time, to recharge. It’s not their natural state of being.
  • Introverts don’t blush because they are embarrassed. They blush because they are reacting to concern for others, the group they are in, the people they are watching, a situation in which they are involved. It is an uncontrolled, honest reaction of empathy.
  • We all have an old brain and a new brain.
  • People are either reward-oriented or threat-oriented.
  • Introverts see things that others don’t see, but are sometimes too shy to bring it up in a meeting.
  • Professor Brian Little came up with the Free Trait Theory which totally explains why I sometimes act like an extrovert.
  • Satyagraha.
  • There are high self-monitors and low self-monitors.

Cain’s book helped me find my “why” … I’m an introvert and here is all this research explaining why I do what I do. I’m not weird. I’m not malformed. I’m not at a disadvantage in the world.

In fact, I have strengths that, until I read this book, had never been named. This book is empowering.

Reading this book brought up memories I hadn’t thought of in decades. It helped me understand why my teachers treated me as they did, why my parents pushed me in the direction they did, why I get sick to my stomach on stage and terrified of going to a party where I don’t know anyone. And I understand why reporting for the newspaper was easier than I thought it would be – because I hid behind my notebook and pen. I was invisible, a non-person, just trying to get a story. That, to me, was safe.

There are lists of questions for the introvert (and loving extrovert) to work through, helping them to understand – another excellent resource.

And this quote: said Franz Kafka to his fiancee: “You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind … That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.”

Wow. Exactly.

And now, some personal thoughts:

  • After trying to be an extrovert for most of my life, fighting against my core nature, I have finally embraced my introvert self and I am learning my new inner strength.
  • As Cain describes the Tony Robbins seminar I can feel my stomach tighten and my shoulders tense. I had to put down the book four times.
  • In “Quiet,” Cain explains how introvert and shyness are confused and the intricate way highly sensitivity and introversion are entwined. This was comforting to me.
  • I have been following the wrong people. I have buried my true self to be who others wanted me to be – an extrovert.
  • Sometimes, when I was partying (or trying to), I would stop and observe, come out of my experience and judge what I was doing. Sometimes I stuffed it and continued on. Other times I would stop, turn around, and go home, embarrassed by the complete waste of my time.
  • I am a recovering quasi-extrovert. A lot of my personal problems have been caused by me trying to be an extrovert because that was expected of me.
  • Maybe we have these amygdala (old brain) instincts so that we are better prepared to understand the animals we care for.
  • I am reward sensitive. I buy what I “know” will make me happy, or give me an advantage, only to be disappointed or ready to bail out. This is my old pretend extrovert self.
  • Like Alex (p.210), I learned to watch people and act like they do. I learned to find the top dog. I called myself a chameleon.

If you know an introvert, if you think you are an introvert, read this book. Yes, it’s big, but there is so much light, joy, humor and insight within that you won’t notice.

Find more of Susan Cain’s works here: http://www.quietrev.com/author/susan-cain/

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2 thoughts on “Shh… I’m Trying to Exist

  1. mendell.rachel7@gmail.com says:

    awesome! … Tony suggested the book … and he told Dave he should read it too … no luck yet … so comforting … so much forgiving of myself too …

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